These five photos of llamas from the U.S. Library of Congress warmed my heart and instantly made me think of Polka Spot (the Beekman’s resident Diva) and the long history of llama domestication in the Western hemisphere.
Llamas are part of the camelid family and, before the Ice Age, they once roamed the North American landscape in great numbers. Driven south by the extreme temperatures, llamas took up residence in the Andes mountains of South America where they were eventually domesticated, nearly 4000 years ago. The Incas used llamas as their beasts of burden, although they were highly regarded as gifts from the Gods. They provided the Incas with material for clothing and blankets, food and fertilizer. They became popular in early South American civilizations as modes of cargo transport and were frequently used by farmers to protect livestock from lurking predators.
It was only during the late 1800s that private collectors and zoologists began to reitroduce llamas to their original North American homeland. Zoos and hobby farms would exhibit the llamas, often allowing curious patrons to pet or feed them. It was an Oregon couple, Kay and Richard Patterson, who first began to breed llamas domestically in the U.S. in the 1970s. Since then their numbers have exploded and their popularity with farmers has increased. Today there are approximately 500,000 llamas living in the United States and Canada – a number that is steadily growing.
The photos below are some of the earliest known photographs of llamas taken in the United States, dating between 1912 and 1920.